It all goes back to the seventeen hundreds when Gorham Silversmiths
established their business in Providence. They were the original
and just about all jewelry companies were off shoots of their
operation in one way or another. Over the years these companies
evolved into making jewelry, both precious and later costume lines.
Out of necessity support companies formed, electro platers. stone
suppliers, enamelers, findings companies and most important, all the
basic material suppliers were located in the Providence and the
nearby Massachusetts communities, Attleboro, and North Attleboro.
Most of the metal manufacturers have consolidated into one major
supplier, but several smaller metal companies have formed. However,
these new smaller metal supply companies lack the diversity of
products, often limited to basic strip and wire production. Not
offering specialty products such as gold filled, solder filled items,
laminated metals and thin wall custom tubing.
While the industry that is in place is still a vibrant part of the
Rhode Island and Massachusetts community - it is shrinking. I would
say the industry was strong up until the middle to late nineteen
eighty’s. Labor intensive costume jewelry was the first to succumb
to Asian competition. Costume was a major part of the industry so
the area has felt the loss. Most of the companies processing precious
metals have held up well; however, some of them are not as strong as
they once were.
While many of the older crafts people have passed on, there are
still many very talented individuals in this area, from engravers to
designers to toolmakers to everyday jewelry crafts people. And, there
is still a strong jewelry support industry in place, but, the
customer base has spread out to many other states.
The Manufacturing Jewelers & Suppliers of America is located in
Providence as well as the Providence Jewelers Club. MJSA’s name
originally included Silversmiths of America rather than suppliers up
until only a few years ago. With a couple of exceptions, most of the
hollow ware sterling silver companies have moved on.